How to Convert CMYK to Pantone PMS

By Karen S. Garvin

The printing industry uses several palettes of ink colors to produce finished products. Commercial four-color printing uses cyan, magenta, yellow and black inks (CMYK), which mix on paper to produce full-color images. Spot-color inks are used to produce when one or more specific colors are called for. The Pantone Matching System (PMS) is a trademarked system for identifying and matching colors. Originally developed for the graphic arts, it now includes paints and other commercial products. Converting CMYK colors to Pantone colors is complicated because the two ink palettes describe different color ranges and are not equivalent.

Things You'll Need

  • Photoshop, Photoshop Elements or Adobe Illustrator
  • Pantone Color Bridge ink book

Step 1

Open your file in the software of your choice. Make sure the software supports the Pantone color matching system. Select the eyedropper tool or equivalent from the program's tools. Click on the CMYK color that you wish to convert to PMS. This should now be your foreground, or "working," color.

Step 2

Click on the foreground color. In Photoshop, for example, this brings up the "Color Picker" menu. You will see HSB, Lab, RGB and CMYK color values for your foreground color.

Step 3

Select a Pantone or PMS library from the options in your software's menus. There may be options for coated and uncoated paper, metallic inks and pastel inks. Choose the color library that is closest to the kind of ink and paper you are using for your finished product.

Step 4

Click "OK" to select the Pantone color, and you're done. Check to see how different the Pantone color is from the CMYK color that you were using. Change to another PMS color if you don't like the one the software picked. Not all CMYK colors have Pantone equivalents, so you will have to choose the one that is closest.

Step 5

Use a Pantone ink book to get the "official" PMS color for any given CMYK color. Borrow an ink book from a printer if you can't afford to buy one. Use an online reference or join a graphic arts forum for help (see Resources).

Tips & Warnings

  • Always consider your paper color. Check whether your paper is coated or uncoated.
  • For some CMYK colors, there is no equivalent PMS color.
  • Different versions of the same program have different PMS libraries.
  • Do not convert the PMS color back into CMYK and expect it to be the same as the original color.